Until recently I was blissfully unaware of Rachel Held Evans. That is, until I encountered this column ostensibly dealing with the church and how Christian business people “should” react when confronted with an affront to their religion. The offending passage that appeared on my Facebook wall was this:
The truth is, evangelical Christians have already “lost” the culture wars. And it’s not because the “other side” won or because evangelicals have failed to protect our own religious liberties. Evangelicals lost the culture wars the moment they committed to fighting them, the moment they decided to stop washing feet and start waging war.
Upon reading the article, I found it very flawed in its use of Scriptural exegesis, its applications, and even the understanding of what is at stake in the so-called culture wars. Furthermore, when I looked into the background of Mrs. Evans I found that she is not a biblical scholar. Yet, here was this column published by the New York Times. So what gives her special standing that the New York Times publishes her column? She holds only an English Literature degree from Bryan College. She has published two books: Evolving in Monkey Town (which is about her religious life in Dayton, Tennessee – the home of the Scopes Monkey Trial) and A Year of Biblical Womanhood. She is a Christian but she has become a liberal Christian who supports gay marriage and such things in contradiction to Church doctrine. She is one of the Christians. She takes what she wants and leaves the rest. Her work is clearly amateur hour in research and journalism but particularly so regarding biblical studies.
The first thing that struck me about the quote above was that she is simply wrong. The church has never stopped “washing feet”. This is a false argument that seems to be popular in liberal circles. The church was never faced with an either/or situation. Nor did it abandon the “foot washing” she so admires. If she had any source to backup this statement she did not provide it or any insight into why she imagines this is so. The same hospitals are still funded by the church, as are missionaries, orphanages, hospice care, feeding the homeless, homeless shelters, and dozens more good works.
We have seen parachurch organizations rise up to take on the culture wars. James Dobson founded Focus on the Family; Tony Perkins founded the Family Research Council; Jay Sekulow founded the American Center for Law and Justice. We could list dozens of similar ministries or para-ministry organizations that have been established to fight the cultural decay in our country.
What the church — and it’s people — did was take on the culture wars in addition to all of the other good works it was doing. Where she got her idea that the church somehow changed when confronted with the culture wars is a mystery.This is just the repetition of a liberal talking point which is designed to play upon the guilt of people in the Christian community. I, for one, reject that guilt. Of all the institutions that have done damage to American culture, the Church is the least of these offenders. It has been the church and its people who have tried to hold things together and keep us on a proper and good course.
Perpetual Culture Wars
In fact, the modern culture wars were forced on the church by opponents who wished to rewrite the Bible, church doctrine, and social norms as well. Furthermore, what is gloriously ignored by liberal commentators such as Ms. Evans is the fact that the church has been fighting the culture wars since its inception 2,000 years ago!
Christianity has always been at war with the culture around it because that culture has always been pagan or heathen. The fact that the church has been successful in the long-term culture war has led to Western civilization and our own country’s existence. Both have been built on biblical principles, why should Christians sit by while those principles are undermined? There is no reason! This is just a liberal guilt ploy to which some non-analytically-thinking Christians are susceptible.
It always amazes me that liberals expect the church to just roll over and play dead whenever they wish to promote something that is both biblically perverse and hurtful to the national social fabric. Christians are part of the country, too, and they have every right to object to changes that they deem are hurtful to the people of the country. The culture wars gave us drugs, free sex, cohabitation, abortion, and are now to the point of deeming two men equal to a man and woman in marriage (polyamory is not far down the street). The church knows that all this is both sinful and harmful to the individuals and to the country that supports such “Twilight Zone” behavior. Yet, according to liberals like RHE, we’re not supposed to get involved! We’re just to be good “foot washers”. Well, if good foot washing had worked before the culture wars, then we wouldn’t have had the culture wars, right? She seems to live in some dreamy illusion that the church would have won the culture war if it didn’t engage in the culture wars. How do you win a battle that you do not fight? That can only be described as logically deficient thinking. It is a strategy of defeat.
Craig and Katy Bennett are missionaries to Vanuatu my church supports. When Craig was at our church a few weeks ago he gave a lesson which included an illustration of a whole list of things that we would find repulsive. He mentioned primitive tribes who engaged in orgies for worship; who would throw a person down a well to drown as a sacrifice to their gods; brutal warriors who would kill their enemies and drink blood from their skulls. Then he surprised everyone by saying, “These are probably the ancestors of most of you in this room. These were things that were done by the Angles and the Saxons. What changed them? They clashed with the culture of Christianity. The Church won them over from their wicked ways.”
I once had a professor in college who said, “If you can’t trust a man’s history how can you trust the man?” I don’t see how we can trust Mrs. Evans’ history.
I could go further into this and how the 60s radicals have infiltrated the university system, politics, the judiciary but I will leave that for another time. Suffice it to say we are at what I believe is the crest of the radicals’ wave and like all wave crests, it will fall.
Put the Bible Down and Back Away Slowly
Of further concern to me was the way RHE handled Scripture. She attempted to take some passages dealing with Roman law, Jews or Christians and apply them to the current debate over whether or not an American business owner should be forced to do work for someone when he finds it offensive to his deeply held religious beliefs. But her parallels fail miserably. Let me explain.
The main passage she relies on is Matthew 5:39b-48 which comes from the Sermon on the Mount:
“If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well. If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles. Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you… Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”
She relies on the example of a Roman soldier to illustrate how she thinks that Christians ought to respond to people with whom they do not wish to do business. This shows her ineptitude with Scripture.
First, this is Roman law. Second, it did not compel a person to violate deeply held religious beliefs. Third, it was emphatically not persecution to Jews and Christians. Fourth, her application to 21st century American culture and politics is completely incompatible for private business transactions. Fifth, and perhaps most critical, is the fact that the omits a key verse-and-a-half which governs the illustration she loves to use. That passage is Matthew 5:38-39a.
“You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’39 But I tell you, do not resist an evil person.
This passage has the famous law of lex talionis which deals with retributive justice. If a person was injured by another party, that person had the right to fair and just compensation. Such compensation was usually in the form of a fine of some sort. The “eye for eye” statement simply means a “suitable compensation for the injury received”. Then when we add verse 39 to it we see that the Christian is being wronged in some way. The Common English Bible states it this way, “But I say to you that you must not oppose those who want to hurt you.” So what is going on here? Let me explain.
The first three examples of what hurting someone is like are given: one is a slap on the face; another is a lawsuit; the third is the Roman soldier. All three of these are considered to be doing some wrong to the Christian for which he might retaliate in an appropriate measure. But Jesus tells them not to seek retributive justice – “fair compensation” – instead, they are to give more to the person who injured them than is asked or required!
Roman law compelling someone to carry a soldier’s bags was nothing new. People did resent it, but it was viewed by the Romans as a civic duty owed by the people. It would cost lost wages, that much is true, but it was not a violation of any religious belief. The Roman soldier did not make the person deny their God, eat unclean food, or make sacrifices to a pagan deity. That was not the purpose of the law. Thus, compelling service cannot be considered persecution of either Jews or Christians! In that situation a government member forced a member of the empire to provide a legal civic duty. That is not the relationship of a customer to a business either then or now.
Mrs. Evans cannot tell the difference between persecution and retributive justice. Nor does she realize that nothing in the Sermon on the Mount teaches people to compromise their religious values!
Liberty or Tyranny?
The situation being discussed today is really fairly limited. Basically it deals with small businesses where the owner might be perceived as supporting the activity for which he is supplying his talents. This is particularly applicable to artistic services where the artist’s work may be considered an endorsement of their subject matter. Unlike the situation where the Roman soldier has the ability to force a temporary, defined and limited service to the government, today’s situation is about a private business person voluntarily negotiating a deal with another private party, a religious issue on the owner’s part arises, and there is no clear civic duty in play.1 These are crucial distinctions in the comparison. There is nothing to force the business person to take on the transaction if a negotiated agreement cannot be reached for a said service. In fact, you can deny service by saying you are booked on that date or are on vacation or some other excuse. Where do we draw the line? Suppose the proposed job fell on a significant religious day, should we be compelled to have an observant Jewish photographer work on the Sabbath or work on a feast day or work on an annual holy day? Should that man be forced to go to a pig farm and take photographs when he considers pigs to be unclean? In a libertarian society the seemingly obvious answer would be no. Frank Tuerk in his Cross Examined podcast provides a helpful answer: discriminate against behavior, not people. Law is discriminatory about behavior. When the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was passed it took such a stance. Race, religion, and national origin were not grounds for discrimination in the defined services. Issues such as moral behavior were not addressed.
What too few people realize is that compulsory commerce is a form of slavery. The liberal contingency is happy to interject the government into the equation to force private business owners to do what they want regarding their social agenda de jour. However, this means that we are changing the fundamental relationship of the business owner and customer. The customer can now demand a service and the owner must comply despite any religious objections. At this extreme, this has moved from mutual agreement to government tyranny. In fact, it borders on Fascism since the government is now the entity controlling local business deals. Entering into the contract is no longer optional. By opening the doors of your business you are forced to accept any and all “customers” unless you meet a very narrow band of exceptions or are crafty enough to deny offensive services on other grounds.
One of the businesses I’ve operated was a deejay business back in the 1980s. If I had been asked to provide my services for something like a KKK rally, I would have declined because I would not want to be associated with such ideology because it is wrong on multiple fronts, including religious ones. But, under rules being constructed at this time, I would have been forced to provide services for the KKK rally simply because they asked me. It would not allow me to direct them to another deejay service who might want to do the job. No, I would be forced into the work for no other reason than I was offered the job. “Offer”, however, would no longer be the right term: “demand”, “cajoled”, “forced”, or “under duress” would be the right term. Pick your favorite. With such, we have created something we can call commerce slavery.
Imagine . . .
Imagine if the tables were turned. When you walked into a store at the mall the owner could demand that you buy something. In fact, he could define for you what you could buy even if you found it religiously objectionable. A Muslim man who walked into a deli could be forced to buy a ham sandwich, for example, even though it is religiously offensive to him. That would be a ridiculous world, and it is equally as ridiculous to force a private business owner to do business with someone he does not wish to do business with – for whatever reason, but especially for religious ones.
Play Along or Persecution?
It is also not clear to me how RHE thinks that simply playing along with something in violation of your conscience is a helpful ministry tool. Why should we respect someone who does whatever is put before him when it violates deeply held religious beliefs? How deeply held can they be if they are ignored? In fact, she wishes to compare this to suffering persecution in the early church. But the church suffered because it did take a stand against the culture of its day. It suffered because of its religious stance in the culture wars of the first centuries. She doesn’t even understand what persecution really is.
She wishes to see some meaningful comparison in passages that say “love one’s enemy and pray for those who persecute you”. Both of those terms, “enemy” and “persecute”, require that there be hostility toward you, the business owner! In order for this to be the situation, you have to have taken a position in opposition to your enemy and persecutor. That means, in fact, that you are standing on your religious values and not “playing along”. It means that in spite of the fact people sue your bakery or photography studio, you still pray for them and love them.
RHE is also very oblivious to a topic I discussed in another article as to what religious persecution looks like in 21st century America. We have virtually eliminated physical suffering as a form of religious persecution, to our credit. What has replaced it is the legal form of religious persecution since we are a litigious society and social bullying tactics. The “War on Christmas” and the “Happy Holidays” saying fall into these categories as do “In God We Trust” cases and crosses on memorials. So she again fails to see the larger picture or recognize how the face of persecution has changed in a free and civil country.
Of Sowing and Reaping
What the political left has been doing recently has people justifiably afraid for their religious liberties. The cases of a baker in New Mexico and a photography studio in Colorado who refused to provide services for homosexual ceremonies on religious grounds seemed to be ironclad. That is, until the courts ruled against them based on state laws. So the homosexual activists find themselves reaping what they have sown – and they don’t like it.
When people are forced to do something against their will, it causes a reaction against it. In this case, in a country where we are supposed to have religious liberty, we suddenly find that we are having it stripped away in favor of a liberal social agenda. So enshrining religious liberty into the state law seems to be the natural course of events.
Force is never a good tool for conversion. If the homosexual people in these cases had simply taken “no” for an answer and gone on to another baker or photographer, they would not have caused all the hostility and resentment that have led states to consider constructing legal countermeasures (countermeasures that apply to much more than just homosexual issues). They are the ones who are bringing discord into the public arena. In fact, if they would take the attitude that RHE wants the church to take, they would look at it as form of persecution and pray for their enemies. Somehow they are not asked to take the same stance as the church, even though many are ostensibly Christians. (The Colorado photography case is being appealed to the Supreme Court.)
In the article, RHE tries other scriptural references, such as paying your taxes to Caesar, as a means of supporting her assertion that Christians should simply provide the services without objection. Again, her analogy fails for the same reasons as before: it was Roman law, it did not address a private business negotiation between two people, it is wholly incompatible with today’s debate, and it was not a form of persecution – despite what she thinks.
As is typical with the New York Times, they don’t have any conservative writers. RHE has no discernible intellectual or academic credentials that make her a spokesperson on matters of the church, culture, or Bible. She’s literate and she can write. She claims to be a Christian, yet she supports homosexual marriages in contradiction with historic Christian doctrine and in opposition to the Bible’s claim that homosexuality is a sin and marriage is for men and women. So she ignores what she doesn’t like in the Bible, claims by her own power that homosexuality is suddenly not a sin and moves on with her liberal social agenda to chide the church for not going along with it all. If she treated the laws of the state or the rules of a corporate office with such contempt she would be fired or arrested! Such an irresponsible exegesis and application of the text of Scripture as RHE has demonstrated would have earned her an “F” on this paper in my university class. An informed and responsible editor would have shutdown this article before it shamefully came to publication. The fact that the NYT gives her prominence to flout her ignorance is a disgrace. But what do you expect? It’s the New York Times.
Amateur Hour is fun when you’re singing Karaoke. But it is a disaster when it is applied to Scripture and used to shape public policy.
1.↩I recommend the following articles from the Heritage Foundation to get an orientation on the difficulty between civil liberties and anti-discrimination issues. Article One. Article Two. Article Three.